A Review of Nick Berardini’s Killing Them Safely: A Tale of Tasers, Tragedy, and Greed

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Film: Killing Them Safely
Director: Nick Berardini
US Release Date: 27 November 2015

A version of the following review was published by Side B Magazine and can be found on their blog, here.

In his directorial debut, Nick Berardini combines interviews, depositions, and other footage to give viewers a layered a multi-dimensional picture of numerous issues surrounding Tasers and their use by law enforcement. His provocatively titled Killing Them Safely is a chilling documentary that asks a number of important questions about Taser International and the electric weapons that they manufacture. The film opens with footage of the Taser’s inventor repeatedly using the device to incapacitate a buffalo, and the deeply unsettling nature of this footage touches everything that follows.

Founded by brothers Rick and Tom Smith, Taser International is the sole manufacturer of conducted energy weapons. Since the early 2000s, Tasers have become incredibly popular, and they are currently in use by 17, 000 police forces worldwide. As the Smith brothers and their corporate presentations demonstrate, Taser International has repeatedly touted their products as a completely safe alternative to guns and other weapons. In fact, Taser International even claims that the use of Tasers by law enforcement has saved thousands upon thousands of lives by reducing the amount of potentially lethal force deployed in the field.

Much of Killing Them Safely is spent shining a rather damning light on the idea that Taser International is in the business of saving lives. In doing so, the Berardini utilizes a number of archival videos in which dozens of people are tazed in a variety of situations. In the most disturbing of these videos, non-violent civilians die after being tazed by police.

According to the film, Taser use had been connected to 300 deaths by 2008. As a result, scores of legal cases were—and continue to be—brought against Taser International. Many of these cases have been dismissed, but some of the reasons why are questionable at best, and unless they have already watched Killing Them Safely, most members of the public are unlikely to be aware of the litigation. At the same time, both civilians and law enforcement agencies are often woefully ignorant of the risks associated with Tasers.

In depicting the ways in which Taser International has failed to properly acknowledge and respond to the harm that its products sometimes cause, Killing Them Safely does not dispute the fact that most people who are tazed are perfectly fine afterwards. Instead, the film forces viewers to consider whether or not the statistical safety of conducted energy weapons in any way makes up for even one of the needless deaths that they have caused.
Watch Killing Them Safely on Amazon.

In asking viewers to consider the dangers of Tasers, Killing Them Safely also addresses what it is that has kept those dangers relatively hidden. Much of the second half of the of the film is devoted to exposing the means by which the Smith brothers and Taser International have continually denied any connection between Tasers and the deaths that have followed their use. Much like the tobacco industry of yesteryear, Taser International claims that the people who died after being struck by Tasers would have died anyway; so long as there is no definitive proof that the Taser was the only cause of death in each situation, they simply will not accept that they are to blame. Meanwhile, where research does indicate that Tasers can kill, Taser International is quick to look the other way. Given how much money is on the line, such behavior—though abhorrent—is not necessarily surprising, but the fact that they have gotten away with it for so long is incredibly hard to stomach.

It’s no secret that police brutality and excessive force are huge issues in this country, and Killing Them Safely does not shy away from that fact. However, as far as excessive use of Tasers is concerned, Berardini refuses to place all of the blame on a single party. In doing so, the film presents a complex problem in a nuanced and multidimensional light. Taser International may be the biggest villain in the film, but lack of regulation and oversight surrounding their products are also huge issues. Taser International teaches law enforcement agencies how to use Tasers, and in doing so, they consistently emphasize their supposed safety. So, while some cops are to blame for overusing their Tasers, it is also important to consider some of the reasons that they might do so. If police are repeatedly told that Tasers cannot and do not kill people, then to what degree should they be held responsible when someone dies or is severely injured after being tazed? Moreover, it is likely that Taser International’s insistence on the safety of their weapons actually causes officers to deploy them in situations where force is not required at all. If this is the case, then can it really be said that Tasers are saving lives?

Given Taser International’s failure to properly educate police officers concerning the dangers of using and of repeatedly deploying Tasers, Killing Them Safely should be required viewing for anyone who will ever use a Taser. This terrifying and remarkably timely documentary is not at all uplifting, and it does drag in a few spots, but it also raises enough important questions and presents enough information that it’s most certainly worth watching. As with any film of this nature, viewers should take everything with a grain of salt and should continue to think about the issues that it presents even after it’s over. Killing Them Safely may not be one of the most entertaining films that viewers see this year, but it could be the most illuminating.

Until Next Time
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